Ports: All 'Bout a Dealer Named Bout

A Russian arms merchant funnels money, guns, and dope through the United Arab Emirates

WASHINGTON, D.C.—To hear the administration and its supporters talk, you'd think the workers in New York ports are carefully vetted by the Waterfront Commission, the ports themselves protected by the ever watchful Coast Guard, and routinely surveilled by U.S. Customs.

In truth, one administration after another has slashed the operational capability of the Coast Guard. Reagan even contemplated its privatization by a major defense firm. As for the Customs Service, it inspects as little as 5 percent of the cargo going through the New York ports.

This is a dream setup for any arms or dope dealer, and that's exactly what the United Arab Emirates is all about. The ties between its top officials and royal family with the Taliban and Al Qaeda go back at least a decade.

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    The UAE is not only the center of financial dealings in the Persian Gulf, it is switching central for dope and arms dealing. The dope comes out of Afghanistan into the UAE where tax monies are collected and used to buy arms, which were sent back in for the Taliban. Some of this money is thought to have helped finance the 9-11 attacks. A money trail is set forth in the government's filings in the Moussaoui case.

    Long at the center of this operation is the mysterious Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout. The U.N. has accused Bout of providing arms to brutal regimes in Sierra Leone, Angola and to Charles Taylor in Liberia. The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C. research organization that operates a network of foreign correspondents, published a report on Bout in January 2002, citing Belgian intelligence documents from before the 9-11 attacks it had obtained. These documents reportedly show Bout earned $50 million in profits from selling weapons to the Taliban after they came to power in the late 1990s. The Center states, "Another European intelligence source independently verified the sales, and intelligence documents from an African country in which Bout operates—obtained by the Center—claim that Bout ran guns for the Taliban 'on behalf of the Pakistan government.' " Peter Hain, the British Foreign Office Minister for Europe who has led the international effort to expose criminal networks behind the conflict diamonds and small arms trade in Africa, told the Center's reporters, it was clear that Bout's supply of weapons to the Taliban "and to its ally, Osama bin Laden" posed a real danger.

    Der Spiegel, the German magazine, said in early January 2002 that Vadim Rabinovich, an Israeli citizen of Ukrainian origin, along with the former director of the Ukrainian secret service and his son sold a consignment of 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban. Spiegel said the deal was conducted through the Pakistani secret service and uncovered by the Russian foreign intelligence service, SVR, in Kabul, the Afghan capital. A Western intelligence source told the Public Integrity Center that Rabinovich's weapons had been airlifted by one of Bout's airfreight companies from his base in the UAE.

    Rabinovich denied all this, and Bout said "For the record, I am not, and never have been, associated with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or any of their officials, officers, or related organizations," Bout said, according to a copy of the statement released in the United States by one of his associates. "I am not, nor are any of my organizations, associated with arms traffickers and/or trafficking or the sale of arms of kind [sic] anywhere in the world. I am not, nor is any member of my family, associated with any military or intelligence organizations of any country."     

    No one is suggesting Bout has any great love for the radical Muslim fundamentalists of Taliban ilk. He sold guns to the Russians fighting the CIA-backed Afghan mujahideen in their war with the Soviet Union and to the warlords opposing the Taliban. His planes are registered to various companies all operating out of the United Arab Emirates.

    In fact, the United Arab Emirates have been viewed as hub for trade going and coming to Afghanistan, with drugs coming from Afghanistan on their way to the West, and weapons from Bout, going back. While transportation was via Bout's different air cargo interests, it also involved the Afghan state airlines, called Ariana Airlines. The airline was controlled by Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda agents masquerading as Ariana employees flew out of Afghanistan, through Sharjah, one of the emirates, and on to points west.

    During the late 1990s Bout's center of operations was Ostend, Belgium, but when he came under pressure there, he left Belgium. The UAE office grew in importance.

    Bout used various air cargo outfits. One of them was called Flying Dolphin, which in the early 2000s was owned by Sheikh Adbullah bin Zayed bin Saqr al Nayhan, a former UAE ambassador to the United States and member of the ruling family in Abu Dhabi. He was described by the United Nations as a "close business associate of Bout." According to the December 20, 2000, U.N. report, Zayed's company is registered in Liberia, but its operations office is in Dubai.

     
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